Institutional #Learning: A Diagnosis of Australian Army Education, Training, and Doctrine

The development of an Army’s human capacity is the sum of selection processes, training, education, and institutional personnel management, supported by doctrine and leadership.  To determine the current status of these elements and assess whether extant strategic direction and operational delivery will meet future needs, a small team recently conducted a study to ascertain the effectiveness of the current execution of training and education development in the Australian Army.

The Australian Army possesses all of the ingredients for a world-class education, training, and doctrine system.  It recruits some of the finest young men and women the nation has to offer.  It is the beneficiary of very good training infrastructure and a well-trained instructor workforce.  The Adaptive Army reforms of 2008-2009 have more closely aligned individual and collective training and formalised lessons collection and dissemination with varying degrees of success.  The Army has also become better aligned with joint training mechanisms and is the manager of joint training for a number of Australian Defence Force capabilities.

Separately these assets do not guarantee a world class education, training, and doctrine system now or in the future.  As the study finds, the Army has not knitted together its education, training and doctrine within a broader strategy for human capacity needs.  The current system is not fully exploiting futures studies and forward planning to ensure the Army is able to generate individual and collective professional mastery over the next two decades. Without more detailed strategic guidance and objectives on future needs for individual and collective professional mastery, potential gaps in human capacity needs are hidden. Consequently, it is not possible to conclude with certainty that the Army’s training, education, and doctrine is appropriately oriented for the future.

Challenges for Army Education, Training, and Doctrine.  The study team consulted broadly inside and beyond the Army to gain an appreciation of the extant situation in the Australian Army’s education, training, and doctrine system.  This diagnosis should stimulate discussion and provide a start point in addressing the challenge of ensuring that system is fit for a digital-age workforce and oriented on enabling the Army’s people to be successful in future operations.  It explores three key themes in the Army’s education, training and doctrine system. These provide a foundation for producing enduring solutions, which will to be covered in a follow-on article.  

Key Themes

Strategic Direction. The study concluded that the Army’s current training system is not broken. However the Army has not knitted together its education, training and doctrine within a broader strategy for human capacity needs.  It loosely connects the broad span of activities the Army conducts internally and with its joint and Defence partners, which comprise elements of individual and collective capacity development.  

A lack of anticipatory functions ensures uncertainty about whether Army’s future training and education will be fit for the environment in 10-20 years.  While the Army Research and Development Plan contains some research tasks, these are disconnected from measurable training, education, and doctrine outcomes at the Army or Command level. Army’s futures work, which is normally contained in the Future Land Warfare Report, has not been well utilised in anticipating future education and training requirements.

This lack of an Army strategy for its human capability aspirations has a significant impact on professional education and the achievement of professional mastery by Army’s people and teams. One particular General asked, what is the evidence of our professional mastery?  This is a good question.  A range of documents, from the 1950s through the most recent edition of Land Warfare Doctrine 1 (2014) describe the need for professional mastery.  While various definitions have been provided, it is not clear that Army has adequately defined what it means by professional mastery and, importantly, what this necessitates in our performance needs and professional education continuum.

Even if there were a clear and shared understanding of professional mastery, the Army’s cradle-to-grave professional education continuum requires review to ensure that it starts with inculcation of a committed learning culture in our new officers and soldiers that encourages and values intellectual diversity, unifies courses, self-development, experience, and joint education, and tests members on their professional mastery. There are elements of an effective program in existence but they are loosely connected and there is evidence of duplication of content in the All Corps Officer and Soldier Training Continuums.  There is also a lack of consciousness of the importance of professional education, and consequently it has a lower value proposition for most members compared to training and daily operations.

The lack of training direction and advocacy in the Army Headquarters has also reduced the prominence of the training in capability development.  There is no senior champion for the integration of training requirements being brought into service or for the development of the core capabilities required for future training, (e.g., simulation, future doctrine, future training concepts).  This can lead to the incomplete consideration of training, education, and doctrine needs in broader Army capability development.

Agility and Innovation.  The lack of an Army strategy for its human capability development impacts innovation and agility. Training centres and schools are tactically innovative.  They are thinking about new ways of effective and efficient delivery of curriculum.  New approaches to simulation in armoured vehicle training and blended learning are occurring.  But while they can be tactically innovative, these innovations are limited by training tempo and are often about doing old things better, not about doing new things driven by strategic needs.  

Strategic innovation in how the Army delivers training and education to its reserve and regular workforce needs more attention.  Current innovation mechanisms largely focus on short and medium term equipment outcomes and on support for equipment outcomes.  Areas that require invigoration include outsourcing delivery to Joint/civilian agencies, assessing students at the beginning of training to determine student needs, dividing curriculum so students can complete modules in any order, and blended learning.  A more strategic approach to innovation might also provide the Army the opportunity for trial and experimentation with different approaches to residential and distributed learning in collaboration with other Services and external training and education entities.

Innovation should be driven at least partly by lessons learned.  However, the Army’s various lessons mechanisms are not sufficiently connected.  Each Command runs its own lessons process and this is loosely connected to an Army Lessons approach. These disparate processes insufficiently inform and shape training, education, and doctrine innovation as well as equipment and workforce development. A 2011 Australian National Audit Office report found the application of the Australian Defence Force’s learning framework is “patchy and fragmented.” This same conclusion could be applied to the Army’s extant lessons processes.

Innovation is even more difficult when many members of the Army don’t appreciate the institution’s baseline knowledge to adapt from: doctrine.

Innovation is even more difficult when many members of the Army don’t appreciate the institution’s baseline knowledge to adapt from: doctrine.  Army doctrine is not widely read outside of Training Centres and lacks relevance in many areas due to access restrictions and low agility in updating it.  Reading doctrine is not a personal priority for officers and soldiers outside of training centres. Doctrine is difficult to access as it resides on the Defence Restricted Network. This is particularly an issue for those with limited Defence Restricted Network access (such as Army Reserve personnel) and is an impediment to trials with blended learning.    

The Army’s doctrine library, and individual publications, are quite large.  While there has been a consolidation from 370 to 285 publications, there is still room for further consolidation, including potential to reduce duplication with joint doctrinal publications.  While the key ideas in many Army doctrine publications are sound, they are often padded out with extraneous ‘fluff’ and become wordy and overly long. An exemplar is the latest Combat Brigade standard operating procedures.  At 2422 pages, it is now larger than the Complete Works of Shakespeare (the 2015 edition).

Entitlement Culture.  The third and final theme is one of ‘entitlement culture.’  That is, the Army’s education and training is largely pushed at its workforce.  Almost all Army training and education is delivered in a residential environment.  It has built into the Army’s people an expectation that anything they really need to know will be delivered to them on a course.  This goes against contemporary practice in civilian tertiary and vocational establishments around the world, and many other military organisations globally.  

There are a range of non-residential training capabilities such as new information technologies and courseware, which offer the chance to balance residential and non-residential learning (blended learning) and to reduce the time people spend away from homes/units.  There are some initial experiments underway, particularly in the use of online courseware which will be useful in development of the Army’s strategy for blended learning.  In balancing the residential and non-residential approaches, the Army might also better support ongoing professional education and development in units.  Currently, professional education in units is driven by the energy of unit and Brigade commanders, and the Army could provide enhanced direction on themes or topics that align with Army educational and professional development priorities.

Finally, demonstration of professional mastery (partially through self-study) must better provide career advantage. This is the hallmark of a profession, which in cases such as medicine, engineering, law, and commerce expects its members to invest their own time in continually building a professional body of education and experience.  It must be supported through incentives and resources for the conduct of self-study.  While the Army Journal and Land Power Forum provide a mechanism for professional discourse, the Army should also provide access to an expanded array of online professional military education material.  This would enable soldiers and officers to study their profession in accordance with institutional priorities and relevant themes, and then collaborate or hold professional discourse in a distributed fashion using the internet or social media.  


The Australian Army’s training, education, and doctrine system in its current form is not ‘broken,, but neither is it positioned to enable the organisation to retain its human capacity edge to 2030 and beyond. It requires improved strategic coordination, which must be a source of direction and advocacy for education, training, and doctrine, as well as a synchronising mechanism for personnel policy and career management.  Training is generally well positioned for current needs, but there is weakness in the Army’s doctrine and education and a distinct value imbalance between all three.  Finally, there is insufficient future proofing across training, education, and doctrine.

The Australian Army needs a more agile system that is able to anticipate change and continuously adapt to the new generation of soldiers in its ranks, developments in the strategic environment, and new methods of learning that leverage technology.  The possession of such an evolved system will better ensure that the soldiers and officers of the Army remain prepared for future operational challenges. This article has laid out the state of the Australian Army’s education, training, and doctrine as it is now so that the Army can move forward to address these challenges.  These proposed solutions will be described in a subsequent article.

Brigadier Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the USMC Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning.

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